Readings' list

Sengers, P., Boehner, K., David, S., and Kaye, J. '. 2005. Reflective design. In Proceedings of the 4th Decennial Conference on Critical Computing: between Sense and Sensibility (Aarhus, Denmark, August 20 - 24, 2005). O. W. Bertelsen, N. O. Bouvin, P. G. Krogh, and M. Kyng, Eds. CC '05. ACM Press, New York, NY, 49-58.

During the last 30 years critical theory entered the realm of HCI. Several designers began to bring to light and open to discussions general assumptions of HCI. For example work automation was blind to politics in the workspace, centrality of work as the object of HCI and so on. In these cases researchers identified values, practices and experiences that were unconsciously left out of HCI. These critics made it possible to question why particular aspects of human life were left out of design, to discuss whether or not they should be, and to begin to imagine new HCI methods that could more adequately address important parts of human experience.

Critical Reflection: it identifies unconscious assumption in HCI that may result in negative impacts on our quality of life.

The paper argues that both users and designers should be engaged in critical reflection and it proposes principles and strategies to fold critical reflection into the practice of technological design.

Reflective Design

Reasoning about the world (in the tradition of the Enlightenment) is based on or biased by unconsciously held assumptions and perspectives.  Critical reflection provides means to gain some awareness of such forces. Reflection brings unconscious aspects of experience to conscious awareness.

The authors propose that critical reflection should not only be a way for designers to be aware of their assumptions, but also for users to reflect about the use of technology and its relationship to human life. So, how should designers fold critical reflection in their practices? How to design in such a way that users reflect critically?

Critical reflection has been embodied in various design trends. And the authors draw on several principles from them.

Participatory design

PD changed the design practices in order to incorporate democratic values at all stages of the design practices.

From this design approach we draw the principles:

But PD supports existing practices, while reflective design should examine the existing shared values.

Value-Sensitive Design

Value sensitive design methods provide techniques to elucidate and answer value questions during the course of a system's design.

Core values include justice, well-being, welfare, and rights..

Critical Design

Critical designer design objects not to do what users want and value, but to introduce both designers and users to new ways of looking at the world around them and the role that designed objects can play for them in it.
This approach is related to a variety of art based practices.
Unfortunately often people miss the provocative, ironical, or subtle commentary.

Ludic Design

Designing for Homo ludens. Ludic activities can be a way for developing new values and goals and for learning. Ludic design focus on reflection and engagement through the experience of using the designed object.

Critical Technical Practice

Critical technical practice (Agre) is grounded in AI rather than HCI.

CTP is an approach to synthesizing critical reflection with technology production as a way of highlighting and altering unconsciously-held assumptions that are hindering progress in a technical field.


  1. identify the core metaphors of the field
  2. notice what, when working with those metaphors, remains marginalized
  3. invert the dominant metaphor to bring that margin to the center, and embodying the alternative as a new technology.

CPT is more for designers than for users. It is called into action when there is an impasse. For Agre CPT should be driven by technical problems, with critical reflection as a means to technical ends.

Reflection in Action

Schon proposes reflection as an active, in the moment, and almost intuitive, visceral process as opposed to a detached cerebral analysis occurring pre or post engagement.
He proposes a unity of theory and practice: approach a problem with methods and tools yet open to the situation "back talk".

Like reflection in action, reflective design advocates practicing research and design concomitantly. They don't want the surprises to occur but they want to intervene to create or stimulate reflections.

Principles of Reflective Design

  1. Designers should use reflection to uncover and alter the limitation of design practice. Identify unconscious values.
  2. Designers should use reflection to re-understand their own role in the technology design processes. Designer personal preconceptions.
  3. Designers should support users in reflecting on their lives.
  4. Technology should support skepticism about and reinterpretation of its own working.
  5. Reflection is not a separate activity from action but it is folded into it as an integral part of experience.
  6. Dialogic engagement between designers and users through technology can enhance reflection.

Reflective design Practices

  1. Provide for interpretive flexibility: users make meanings.
  2. Give users license to participate.
  3. Provide dynamic feedback to users. 
  4. Inspire rich feedback from users.
  5. Build technology as a probe: reflective designers uses build system analougous to the way a social scientist using an experiment.
  6. Invert methaphors and cross boundaries.


Which strategies to choose when they bring to opposite designs?
How to evaluate? 
How to avoid considering users as dope?


Reflective design is a set of design principles and strategies that guide designers in rethinking dominant metaphors and values and engaging users in this same critical practice.